Monday, July 23, 2007

Locked out

Recently P. reminded me that it was about time we changed the batteries in our car keys because they might run out and leave us locked out of the car. The recommendation was immediately consigned to the "filter out" mailbox in my brain.

A couple of days later, I came back to the car in the supermarket car-park and pressed the button on the key. Nothing happened! Zada, nilch, que dalle. No reaction. No reassuring click. No friendly blink of the orange indicators. I tried again, pressing a little harder. And again, even harder pointing the key right in the window.

Shit.

I got my phone out, readying myself to eat humble pie and ask P. to come and rescue me. As I was calling up his number, I noticed a neatly folded jacket on the back seat. I never fold anything neatly. And where were the booster seats?

My car (identical, I hasten to add), was parked a few spaces further along.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Eating (Far) Out

Despite a long history of international trade, notably in wine and slaves, Bordeaux used to be one of the least cosmopolitan cities imaginable. When I first arrived, apart from a few Vietnamese restaurants, and the ubiquitous pizza places, the choice when eating out was more or less traditional French or nouvelle-cuisine French. Similarly, the bars were mostly bistros and cafés.

Then, at some point in the late eighties we heard a wild and exciting rumour that an Indian restaurant was going to be open in Saint-Pierre. It was called the Koh-I-Noor — although it wasn’t the best Indian cuisine we’d ever had, it was good enough for curry-starved poppadomophiles like us, and we and our friends were regulars for a long time.

Slowly but surely, more Indians opened and Brazilian, Lebanese, African, Australian and Mexican restaurants started popping up all over the place too, along with English pubs and tapas bars and more recently a plethora of Japanese restaurants. At the same time, MacDonalds started their inexorable takeover of every strategic junction.

The other evening, just before a spectacular late-night fireworks display on the Pont de Pierre, we ended up back at the Koh-I-Noor after a very long absence. The food was awful and the serving staff were mostly ....... Japanese.

And if that wasn't enough, on the long walk home up the rue Sainte Catherine (the trams were all full, even at midnight), I noticed the latest new addition to Bordeaux's gastronomic scene — a Subway. How long until they open a Starbucks I wonder ?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Beach Bums

One of the great things about Bordeaux is that you can get out of the city and be on one of the most pristine beaches in Europe within three-quarters of an hour. The children are spending a few days with their grandparents and so we decided go to one of our pre-children haunts today.

Late this morning, as the thermometer rose well past 30°C, we got into the car and headed for Le Porge. As you can see in the photo, it's not the sort of beach you would go to if you want cocktail bars, or shade, or loungers, or if you had children with delicate white skin and no fear of water. All there is is miles and miles of sand and great big waves with dangerous undercurrents called bahines.

If you go to the central part of the beach, you can walk across the dunes on wooden walkways, and you will find lifeguards and closely packed families on the sand. Move just 500m on either side, and you will have to trudge through the pine forest and the hot sand to get to the beach but there will be much more space and fewer dogs and ice boxes.

The further you go, the more naked the people become. And if you keep going, you'll soon start to notice that you're the only woman for miles around and that none of the bronzed young men are paying you any attention whatsoever.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gremlins and Gripes

My I-Pod froze today and it took me ages to find the online instructions I needed to unfreeze it. This left me musicless for a whole morning since I depend on the I-Pod for music in the car (via a nice little cassette adaptor), and in the house (via a dock).

I cancelled our cable subscription and we haven't paid anything since last April. But France Numericable are so pathetic and therefore so inundated with cancellations that they don't have time to come out and unhook everyone so we're still watching cable only for free. This means that we haven't been forced into finding an alternative which in turn means that when they do uncable us we will only have Broadband TV which is a tad unreliable (ie. it breaks up or freezes after anything between an hour and two days). The Rugby World Cup starts in 58 days. I sense much lamenting ahead.

During E's birthday party my Leica lens stuck in the out position and the camera froze. It's being repaired by a man who knows a man at the moment but I hope we get it back soon because I've been reduced to filling my Flickr account with scans of old photos. I've also worked out that the camera is actually still under guarantee but can't find the receipt anywhere.

It's raining. It's been raining for about ten years.

The insurance company has agreed to replaster our living room walls and replace our (now corrugated) flooring. But first we have to get the pipe under the wall fixed or replaced. But I can't find anyone to do it. Plumbers say it's not their line of work, having the rain water re-routed into the well in the garden would be possible but horrendously expensive, it seems that the garden isn't big enough for trenches under the lawn to soak up all the water........ God, I'm even boring myself now.

And while I'm a it, you know another thing that really annoys me? Banks buying up every available corner lot in every town in France and making every crossroads as boring as the next.

And while I'm on the subject of banks. I recently wrote a cheque drawn from my Bank of Scotland current account: an account which I have had for TWENTY-SEVEN years. I haven't been overdrawn for at least two decades but I slipped up and the cheque for £80 was going to mean that I would be overdrawn by about a tenner. They refused the cheque and guess how much they charged me? Go on guess.
THIRTY-NINE Pounds! Goodbye Bank of Scotland, it was nice knowing you.

And breathe.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why blog?

Teuchter tagged me for a "five reasons why you blog" meme.

I blog because I frequently get bored with the work-related files on my computer.

I blog because I like putting words together and then throwing them out into the wilderness.

I blog because I get a kick out of comments and the connections they create.

I blog because if that freak bus accident were ever to happen, my children might one day read this and glean some idea of who I was.

I blog because I want to recreate the comforting regularity of the diary I had to write up every morning in Mrs Thompson's class in primary school.

Rather than tag anyone, I'm going to ask the people who read this but don't have a blog why they DON'T blog.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Happy Campers

Camping hasn't really changed at all since the seventies when my pre-adolescent self discovered the campsites of France on holiday with my parents. Having driven the length of Europe the first sign you saw on arrival, Accueil, was just as much of a misnomer then as it was this weekend after a drive of about an hour for two days' camping on Lacanau lake with the children and a little friend. The people behind the reception desk are still some of the most miserable examples of French inhospitality imaginable.

Some of the rituals I had forgotten about: queuing at the campsite shop to pick up the morning baguette and croissants, the trek to the sanitaires toilet-roll in hand, the garlic-laden plats à emporter. Other things immediately felt familiar: the sensation of sand between one's toes and the acrylic sleeping bag, the dilemma of finding a way of getting out of a shower and into flip flops without stepping on muddy floor tiles, the problem of finding something soft enough to form an ersatz pillow.

When night falls, a piece of canvas between you and a massive storm still feels hopelessly flimsy and amplifies the sound of pelting rain to unbelievable levels. Those tents may be the new sort that set themselves up in two seconds but folding them up still involves a certain amount of wrestling. And while the caravans may sport satellite dishes now, their owners still wear socks with sandals. As ever, the clientèle is still predominantly Dutch although they seem to favour Crocs over wooden clogs nowadays.

Enthusiastic parents still beam approvingly at their children as they make friends with little Hans and Gretchen. They think that this is the way it should be: all of us playing together with no language or cultural barriers — this is the future of Europe.

By coincidence the paperback that I threw into the boot as an afterthought after multiple spades and buckets and my little ponies was Europa by Tim Parks. So as I lay like a freakishly fat sardine in the tin with fidgeting children packed in sleeping bags on either side, to the murmur of various nationalities no doubt sharing a bottle of vin on plastic furniture swapping tips on the best place to buy Primagaz refills, I tried to read a few pages of Tim Parks's rather alarmingly cynical novel and learned among other things that the divorce rate for marriages involving two European nationalities is fifty percent higher than for mono-nationality marriages. Pierre steer clear of that little Ingrid!

Then I spent the rest of the night reflecting at regular intervals as I attempted to turn over, that my creaking body was definitely not overjoyed at this renewed encounter with the hard, unforgiving ground.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dead Donkey en sauce

Laughing at machine translations is the translator's equivalent of, well I'm not quite sure, but certainly something so facile and inequitable that it verges on downright cruelty. Anyway, call me vicious, but I'm not above mocking dumb pieces of software, and here for your callous derision are a few items from a menu I was given to chose from recently:

Jarret de porc confit au miel et aux épices
Bulge of crystallized pig to honey and spices

Poêlée de Saint Jacques au Pinot Gris
Holy Jacque's panful in Gray Pinot

Carré de veau à la crème et aux morilles
Square of calf to the cream and morels

Paillasson de choucroute ou nouilles larges à l'alsacienne
Door mat of sauerkraut or noodles broad to the alsatian one

Munster traditionnel avec croûtons de pain grillé au beurre
Traditional Munster with toasted heels and butter

Crème brûlée au Gewurztraminer
Cream burned in Gewurztraminer

Difficult to choose really, isn't it?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Put Put Putter Putter

Thanks for the collective shove. Here in no particular order are my somewhat cryptic responses to your prodding.

I read a post in a parenting blog recently about the best ways to get your children to tidy up their rooms and realised that I must learn to be more directive in my instructions. Apparently, it's not enough to say, or even shout, "tidy up your room or else." Who'd have thought? You have to say, put all the playmobils in this box, that's wonderful darling. Now put all of the dead animals here." Actually, I should probably start with teaching by example. Soon the children will have to advise me on the best method for shoving a year's worth of academic bumph into three tiny drawers.

Z, has had a haircut. He looks a bit like Oor Wullie.

He also received his first Oor Wulliesque report from primary school. Apparently the French school system has yet to hear of positive reinforcement for 6-year-olds; learning through play; and even the value of liaising with parents before the last day of school. Although the grades are all perfectly all right, the comments are terse : "Z. n'a pas encore compris qu'il n'est pas à l'école pour s'amuser". They'll be sending him down the mines next.

Since I last wrote, Bordeaux has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That's good, I think. I must go and visit some of the sights before the expected hordes of new tourists descend on us.

E. has turned five. She was 4.3 kg when she was born. That's a big baby. But she shot out like a torpedo. (My beloved brother tells me I really should not boast about how easily she shot out. I can't think why.)

Last night we went to her dancing school gala which lasted for almost THREE HOURS. It turned out that we had signed up not just to see little girls dancing bits of the Nutcracker Suite (I think that's what it was) but also adults who should have known better sharing the results of a year's worth of singing classes, and obese teenagers doing sullen hiphop routines trying to look cool and uninterested while at the same time pulling their t-shirts down over their wobbly tummies. Needless to say E's brief but perfect skip across the stage and graceful jump out of a box made it all worth it.

We've lived in this house since 1998, and we still don't have any toilet-roll holders. Is that bad?

Right, I think that's me back on the road again.